India set to expand ties with Africa

India’s engagement with Africa is set to enter a new phase, with a five-day summit scheduled from October 26 to 30 in New Delhi. The first India-Africa Forum Summit took place in New Delhi (2008) and the second one at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (2011). Although the links between India and Africa go back many years, China could score better on having a more intensive engagement with the continent. Comparatively, India’s structured institutional engagement with Africa as a whole had a late start. Better late than never, though. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seized the opportunity for deepening ties with Africa, picking up the thread from 2008.

What Prime Minister Modi intends is to give a new direction to India’s institutional relationship with Africa. The earlier Banjul formula of inviting only 15 heads of state or government through the African Union has been scrapped. Now all the 54 heads of state and government have been invited to the Third India-Africa Summit in New Delhi. In response, almost all the African leaders have given their consent for participation, making it the largest international summit meeting to be hosted by India after 1983 NAM and CHOGM summits.

Turkey, Japan, European Union, China, South Korea and lately the US have had regular institutional arrangements with the natural resource-rich continent. In a multi-polar world, competition in engagement should not be a policy because there is enough space for every country to develop a relationship suited to its convenience and the needs of Africa. India, therefore, needs to develop its relationship with Africa in its unique way. Since the Banjul formula has been done away with, India needs to intensify its relationship with African countries through bilateral, regional and pan-African formats. There are several economic and political groups in the vast continent catering to regional interests and India needs to engage directly with these groups. At the same time, we also need to maintain our relations with the African Union. So far India’s development assistance was routed through the African Union. But the vast continent has countries with varied needs and priorities for development. Therefore, it is necessary that India engage with these countries directly or through regional groups. Other venues of India’s engagement are Economic Commission for Africa, Afro-Asian Rural Development Organisation (AARO), Pan African Parliament, Indian Ocean Rim Association. In 2014, South Africa hosted the 5th BRICS Summit with the focus on a partnership for development, integration and industrialisation of Africa. BRICS countries agreed to set up a Development Bank to meet the needs of developing and least development countries.

India’s basic approach to development cooperation is a three-pronged strategy – technical assistance, a line of credit (LoC) and grants. Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) was launched as early as in 1964 to share its development experiences with fellow developing countries, but then the continent of Africa as a whole was not much under the microscope. For development cooperation programmes, a separate Development Partnership Administration (DPA) was set up in the Ministry of External Affairs in January 2012. For promoting economic diplomacy Investment and Technology Promotion (ITP), Division was also created.

Since the First India-Africa Summit, India committed $7.4 billion Line of Credit (LoC), of which $6.8 billion have been approved and $3.5 billion has been disbursed which created 137 projects in 41 countries. Total grant element in the LoC was $500 million. Though the pace of capacity building and training has been satisfactory, that of setting up of projects and institutions has been slow due to the delay in preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for African countries. India, with the help of AU, could set up Pan-African e-network for education and health in 48 countries. Since the first summit, New Delhi extended 40,000 scholarships for pursuing academic study in India. Indian pharma companies supplied cheap medicines to contain HIV-AIDS in Africa, but its role in containing Ebola outbreak was limited.

It is ironical that while Africa seeks closer engagements with India, New Delhi’s response has not kept up with that pace. There are 43 African Missions in New Delhi while India has set up permanent missions in only about 25 countries.

There are some of the fastest growing economies in the world in Africa. It is a continent that has large amounts of arable land and rich in natural resources including oil and gas. It is a demographically young continent – 65 percent of the African population is under the age of 35. It has got a long coastline, very important in trade and strategic terms, of 26,000 km. There are, however, several landlocked countries.

Will India be an active partner in Africa’s development? Can India be a leader of the developing world, including the landlocked countries and small island states in the global fora, particularly in the context of the upcoming G-20 summit, Paris conference on climate change and WTO Ministerial in Nairobi? Africa represents 28 percent of UN membership and its support is crucial for India getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. UAE, Singapore, UN Coordinator for Africa, UN Global Head for HIV AIDS and President of the African Development Bank are invited as special guests in the summit as they are interested in financing projects addressing health and social issues.

Apart from the development of the continent, there are areas of a win-win situation for both sides. Bilateral trade has reached $ 70 billion and needs to scale up further. Indian corporates’ investment in the resource-rich continent is in the range of $30-35 billion. There is a 2.7 million Indian diaspora in Africa. There is ample scope for setting up fertilisers plants in Africa with buyback arrangements. New Delhi depends upon import of pulses from countries like Tanzania to meet its shortages. Nigeria exports oil to India. Mozambique has huge gas potential and there are new hydrocarbon discoveries in North Africa including Somalia. About 400-strong African business delegation will be coming for the business forum meeting and trade ministers’ meet is likely to sort out problems in trade and investment.

Finally, development can take place where peace and security exists. India has joint working groups on counter-terrorism and defence training arrangements with several African countries that need to be extended to others. India is already in the UN peacekeeping mission in Africa. Countries on the east coast of Africa are crucial for maritime security in the Indian Ocean and New Delhi has offered them a package of maritime security and sustainable blue economy. The finalisation of a joint action plan with the African Union after the summit meeting could pave the way for 2.3 billion people of India and Africa working together.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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